Corporate Social Responsibility: Small Business Edition
Published on November 18, 2021 at 12:10 p.m.
by Gabrielle Jolly.
The topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has grown significantly over the past decade, with 77% of consumers now looking to buy from companies that “make the world a better place.” When most people think of CSR, they think of large-scale corporations such as Starbucks, Microsoft or Ben & Jerry’s. However, small businesses play a monumental role within their respective communities through local CSR initiatives.
According to a recent study, 72% of people believe that small businesses are more adept at positively impacting their communities than large corporations. Local businesses have the ability to focus on ethical, environmental, philanthropic or economic responsibilities to strengthen and maintain relationships within their communities.
Ethics are a crucial component of CSR. In fact, ethics ensure that an organization is treating all stakeholders, employees and customers in a fair manner. By targeting these publics, small businesses are obtaining “positive public relations” responses. Businesses that emphasize ethical practices exhibit the authenticity of the companies and their ability to maintain strong mutual relationships.
For example, Mean Mug Coffee Company of Salisbury, North Carolina, actively embraces its ethical responsibility with both employees and customers. Mean Mug has a partnership with the Rowan Cabarrus Community College S.O.A.R. program, which offers employment opportunities for adults with mental disabilities. Because of this partnership, employees from the S.O.A.R. program are able to experience everyday social interactions and develop various soft skills within the workplace.
“I wanted to create a space for everyone,” said Evelyn Medina, owner of the coffee shop. “It was almost like a necessity that Salisbury needed. People in different walks of life can now understand that being a community means taking in the entire community.” Medina noted that the company’s mission has sustained throughout the years and continues to emulate a welcoming and diverse brand identity.
Sustainability and practicing “green” behaviors have emerged as leading concerns in the CSR realm. Many large corporations have adopted guidelines and initiatives geared toward conservation efforts. Small businesses, as a result, have begun to take part in numerous community efforts that are close to home. Maintaining environmentally friendly business practices has become a societal norm, giving small businesses an opportunity to display their core values through both local and sustainable efforts.
One example of a small business practicing environmental responsibility is Bull City Burger and Brewery. The Durham, North Carolina-based restaurant upholds a commitment to source locally raised beef from farmers around the area. Purchasing beef directly from local sources limits the use of hormones and antibiotics used in raising cattle, which then improves the quality of growth on farmland. “I like to follow our three P’s: people first, planet second and profit third,” said Seth Gross, owner of the brewpub. Sustainability is one of the seven core values of the small business, and the restaurant was also the first brewpub in the state to receive a B Corporation certification in recognition of how it “balances purpose and profit.”
“By practicing our core values, we’ve become part of the thread in the fabric of Durham,” noted Gross. “We’ve given $30,000 back to the community each year, and we want to maintain those relationships.” By educating customers on the farm-to-table lifecycle and overall quality of life in local food sourcing, Bull City is inspiring others to shop locally, conserve energy and limit chemical intake with their daily food consumption.
Many small businesses commonly practice philanthropic responsibility, which is defined as “donating funds, goods or services to another organization or cause,” according to Lumen Learning. In choosing philanthropic opportunities that correlate with one’s business values, a small company is able to formulate a brand identity over time that resonates with its customers.
In its philanthropic responsibility efforts, Session Cocktails, a bar located in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, offers a monthly cocktail and donates a percentage of the profits of its sales back to the organization chosen each month. Session partners with numerous local businesses, such as the Tuscaloosa Metro Animal Shelter, the Children’s Hands-on Museum and the Junior League of Tuscaloosa. These partnerships expand awareness and brand loyalty for both parties, which reinforces the overall relationship between the small business and its community members.
Economically responsible businesses make financial decisions that prioritize doing good things for the community. In turn, relationships are strengthened among small businesses and their customer bases. In a recent economically responsible project, JNJ Apparel, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama-based screen printing company, formulated a variety of partnerships with other local businesses to generate profits for everyone involved.
Many local restaurants, bars and other specialty shops had to abruptly close due to the pandemic — leaving many small business owners worried about future profits. In response, JNJ launched its online marketplace, a platform that showcased a variety of shirt designs for everyone’s favorite Tuscaloosa hotspots. Michael Wright, co-owner of JNJ, noted that the platform raised $125,000 to donate back to local businesses.
“This idea really helped us build new relationships and expand upon new ones,” said Lindsey Wright, e-commerce and development coordinator at JNJ. “We also had a chance to reconnect with alumni who had purchased our greek life shirts in college, and we changed our model by deciding to ship our shirts around the country.” Wright noted that the overwhelming positive response and community support ultimately kept all of the businesses afloat during the pandemic.
Through authenticity and close relationship-building, small businesses are able to foster a variety of positive changes within their communities. Due to their close proximity to local leaders, business owners and their employees have the ability to impact their communities with company values that resonate with citizens. By participating in or creating inspiring initiatives, small businesses build strong brand identities that will reach new publics and motivate others for years to come.